Hungry eyes: the Tenome

Did you know that Stephen King himself squirmed when he saw the Pale Man scene in Pan’s Labryrinth? Hard same, Steve. When I first saw that movie, that scene disturbed me so much that it came back around and left me grinning ear to ear. The Pale Man is geniusly weird, with his sagging skin and eyes on his palms. Who could have thought him up?

Pale Man from Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro)
The Pale Man (in case you need me to jog your memory).

It turns out the answer is the Japanese, some 250 years ago. The original monster was not a naked dude with skin folds conveniently covering his private bits, but a yokai that appears at first glance to be a zato (a member of a blind man’s guild). This not-zato can be found lurking in cemeteries, hands outstretched, as if he has only recently lost his vision and is searching for something. Get close enough, and you’ll find out in quick succession that a) he’s not blind, but looking with eyes embedded in his hands, and b) what he’s looking for is a snack like you. 

Once the tenome (pronounced teh-no-may, not teh-gnome) has caught your scent, you’re finished. He moves fast, and even if he doesn’t catch you right away, he’s likely to find you later.

Eye have a bad feeling about this 

Take the story of a bold youth who went to spend the night in a graveyard on a dare. The youth was getting settled in when he noticed an elderly blind man wandering around some distance away. Scoffing to himself–this was supposed to be a night of horror, not charity–he went to see if the zato needed help. The youth got close, calling out to him, and then the zato turned around. The youth froze–there were nothing but empty patches of skin where the zato’s eyes were supposed to be, and on his withered palms, reaching toward the youth’s face, where two bare, unblinking eyes.

The tenome lunged, and the youth ran. There was a temple nearby, and he ducked inside, crying out for help. 

A monk answered his call. Alarmed, he listened to the young man’s account and realized at once that that they both had to hide, and fast. The monk hurried the youth into a large chest, and then hid himself. He knew his temple and its constituents well, so when a soft shuffle of feet appeared at the entryway, he knew that they belonged to a stranger. 

The monk held his breath and begged his heart to beat more quietly. The shuffling neared, and then slowed to a stop. There was silence, then a long, breathy slurping sound, like a dog sucking the flesh off a bone. 

The monk squeezed his eyes shut and waited for the touch of dry fingers, the soft, wet give of an eye. Instead, the shuffling resumed, moved back to the entrance, and faded away. The monk hesitated for a long time before coming out of his hiding place, unable to believe his luck. He and the youth had survived an encounter with a fearsome yokai! He hurried to lift the lid of the box, knowing that the young man would be anxious to get out. 

His greeting died on his lips. The chest was empty save for a blubbery pile of skin–the only thing the tenome had left of the would-be adventurer. 

That is the first commonly circulated story about the tenome. The second is more of an origin story, where a blind man is attacked by brigands and dies cursing them, wishing that he could see their faces, if only with his hands. He was granted his wish too literally and came back as a yokai. You can guess the rest. 

A jest gets out of hand

The Tenome, by Toriyama Seiken
Sekien’s illustration.

The tenome first appeared in a 1776 yokai encyclopedia written by Toriyama Sekien. Sekien gave the tenome its name as a multi-layered wordplay joke at the expense of gamblers and priests. His accompanying illustration is also (via complex allusions) humorous, poking fun at cheaters and people who are so jumpy that they see ghosts everywhere. A good breakdown of the joke (such as it can be understood by people who only know English) can be found here; I am not able to do it justice.  

Beyond that, Sekien gives us no other information–no context for where the tenome comes from or what it is. Perhaps he meant for it to be nothing more than a joke. But as is the danger with all jokes, some people didn’t get it. They took the tenome seriously. I’m glad that they did, because they gave the tenome a life of its own, and have created some wonderful things.

A hand-some legacy

Pan’s Labyrinth (and all the artwork spinoffs it created) is not the only modern place the tenome has appeared. The yokai also inspired one of the bosses from Cuphead (a video game featuring  surrealist 1930’s rubber hose-style animation), and appears in the popular Pathfinder roleplaying game. Search “tenome” in Youtube, and you’ll come up several gameplay videos for an indie horror piece that came out a few years back (developed in a whopping 2 days!). You can play it for yourself here if you’d like to get some modern-day tenome action

The Pale Man will always have a special place in my heart, but with so many versions of the tenome out there, it’s hard to pick a favorite. Maybe I should ask the universe for a guiding hand. 

Oda Teme bozu, or tenome
Get it????

What would the incidence of bacterial conjunctivitis be in a population whose eyes are embedded in their hands? Share your estimates in the comments below. 

IMAGE CRED: Ryan on Flickr for the Pale Man; Toriyama Sekien 300 years late for his clever tenome image; and 尾田淑 for the tenome image in color.

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Wake up, sheeple! It’s the Sheepsquatch

Once upon a time, in the low mountains of West Virginia, a former Navy seaman decided to eat some mushrooms he found on the forest floor. The man–Edward Rollins–was in that forest to hunt for either the Mothman or a UFO, but after his choice of snack, he was in for a greater treat: Out of the woods came a bipedal creature the size of a bear, with matted, white wooly fur; curved goat horns; and hands like a raccoon. This monstrosity–half sheep, half ‘squatch–knelt at the edge of a nearby creek to lap at the water. 

A raccoon hand, for the uninitiated.

One could presume that if Ed were hunting for supernatural stuff, he would have some sort of camera or other recording equipment on him. But if he did, the terror of this strange beast (or maybe it was just the ‘shrooms again) stayed his hand. The creature reeked of sulfur; Ed could smell it from where he hid. When it finally stood up to lumber away, he bolted to his car, and the legend of the Sheepsquatch began.

Lambchop redux

The Sheepsquatch was spotted several times thereafter, and not just by people tripping balls. Other encounters cast it as a sort of ‘roided out version of Baphomet: 8 feet tall, a head half that wide, fangs, frightening speed, a humanoid scream. The same year that Ed had his little mushroom encounter, the Sheepsquatch startled a pair of children playing in their backyard and later a group of women driving on the icy roads of the TNT–the same area famous for all the Mothman business. In both cases, it spooked and ran away, leaving broken branches in its wake. 

A little mood setting.

All of this was in 1994. By ’95, the ‘squatch became pissed enough at people interrupting its business that it started to get aggressive. The next time a couple came upon it along the highway (it was squatting in a ditch at the time, and sporting an extra set of red eyes), it launched at them and nearly ran them off the road, leaving long scratches down the side of their car. In ’99, the ‘squatch emerged out of the dark to snarl at a group of campers, chasing them out of the woods and then destroying their campground so thoroughly that it looked like the soil had been tilled. 

Over the next few years, the Sheepsquatch would frighten various hikers and documentary crews. The last sighting was in 2015, with yet another group of ill-advised campers. This time, the story played out a little differently: One of the campers saw the Sheepsquatch silhouetted against the night sky and hurried to warn their friends about its presence. The campers stumbled out of their tents in time to see Sheepsquatch hesitate on the other side of the creekbank before wading toward them with murderous intent. But a guttural screech stopped its progress. The ‘squatch looked up, eyes wild, snout twitching in the moonlight, and then barreled away. The campers thought it best to follow its lead, stopping just long enough to warn the locals before getting the hell out of town.

Baa-ad company

The Sheepsquatch is sometimes categorized as one of West Virginia’s White Things, possibly because encountering either feels like a hallucinogenic nightmare. 

An image one might use were they to take the Sheepsquatch seriously.

The White Things haunt the same area as the Sheepsquatch, and are characterized as pale, ghostly harbingers of death. They move with unnatural speed and are prone to fiercely attacking their victims, driving them insane with pain but leaving no visible marks. A 1929 account by coal miner Frank Kozul describes a dog-like something launching at him out of nowhere, tearing at him in a frenzy with no sound but the gentle rustling of trees and the singing of birds. Another account describes a white figure knocking a hunter down a hill. He screamed with inconsolable terror that it was “ripping out his guts,” but to his fellow hunters, there appeared to be nothing physically wrong.

If we group the Sheepsquatch with the White Things, we get to imagine fun scenarios like it scarring a child by floating alongside a car at 65 mph. The theory goes that these White Things might all be different species of one phylum of interdimensional beings, ghosts, or cryptids. If the Sheepsquatch isn’t a mushroom induced hallucination, it really could be anything.

Spawn of Sheepsquatch

Regardless of where the Sheepsquatch came from, it has inspired some excellent creative activity. One gem comes in the form of a book elegantly titled “Sheepsquatch” (“Sheep” in white; “Squatch” in a messy, bloody red) and featuring some of the best cover art I have ever seen. The book appears to be one in a series of “Vapid Vixen Horror Romance,” authored by the subtly pennamed “I. Ronik.” I tried to buy a copy, but alas, they are no longer for sale. 

Art!

On a slightly more mainstream scale, Fallout 76 (an online roleplaying game, for the uninitiated) included a “Shear Terror” Wild Appalachia update that features the Sheepsquatch stealing a character’s brother. From the pictures that I’ve seen, the designers have elected to remove some of the Sheepsquatch’s skin for a more dramatic effect.

My hope is that these and other works of ‘squatch art will help raise awareness about this important issue, drawing more people into the woods of West Virginia and giving us more ‘squatch sightings. 🤞 

Until then, ewe will just have to stay put. 

Would a Sheepsquatch wool sweater be more or less itchy than a standard wool sweater? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

PHOTO CRED: Gaby Müller for the manicure inspiration; Estelle Pizer for the flock; the Internet Archive Book for Mr. twisty horns; Suju for the mirror sheep.

Call me Ishmael: the great white Ningen

Sea monsters! Out of all cryptids, I find them to be the most plausible. We’ve only explored about 20% of the world’s oceans, and in that 20% have already found a lot of weird crap. Who’s to say there couldn’t be something stranger out there?

On an unspecified date in the early 90’s, on the lonely, icy waters of the Antarctic, a 60-foot long, pearly white something broke the waves next to a Japanese research vessel. Fearing that it might be a foreign submarine, crewmen ran to the railing to get a better look at it. Then they noticed that it had skin. And arms. And a face.

Before they could scream, the thing resubmerged, and the legend of the Ningen began.

Arctic
Sploosh.

It’s worth pausing to note the significance of the word “ningen”: In Japanese, it means (roughly) “human.” Naming a giant horror of a creature “human” suggests that behind the Ningen’s humanoid shape, the crewman perceived some uncanny intelligence or spirit. Given that the Ningen can get up to 90 feet long, that is something to be reckoned with.

Typical descriptions of the Ningen make it sound like an f-ed up mermaid: giant, bald, and white, it has (as I have mentioned) two arms and even five-fingered hands. Its nose-less face features only black eyes and a slit mouth. Its feet are often combined into an enormous fin, so that it can shoot through the antarctic waters at killer whale speed.

Those are the typical descriptions. Other descriptions characterize the Ningen as a roughly human-sized blob on two feet. How that and the god-like whale thing are categorized as the same creature, I’ll never know. For the sake of this post, I’m going to stick with the behemoth mermaid version, because clearly it is the superior one.

You can find the Ningen mostly in the cold waters of the Antarctic, possibly relying on hydrothermal vents to warm their freakishly human hands. What little information there is on them originated from an online forum called 2channel, and later a 2007 article in Mu magazine. The rest is internet speculation frenzy.

Ningen
I don’t even know, man.

There have been plenty of photos and videos released of supposed Ningen (or artistic interpretations thereof), but most of these are pretty clearly faked (or hilarious, as in the example to the right). Ningen believers claim this is because the Japanese government freaked out when researchers brought back photos of their definitely-not-a-submarine; they say officials buried those pictures deep and then entered into ongoing campaign to have further evidence destroyed. Much like with the U.S. government and aliens, non-specific government agencies have supposedly flooded the internet with a bunch of crap to make the public think that the whole thing was bunk and move on, all while they work on Top Secret Research about the creatures in the background.

It’s not impossible that there is something weird out there in the deep, cold ocean, and that there were real researchers that really saw it. But what was it that they saw? Cryptid and mystery-hunting sites have offered a number of explanations.

1. Ice.

Unsexy but fair. A lot of the pictures (especially this one and this one) look like ice chunks.

2. Funky-looking sharks, whales, or squid.

This is to say that the Ningen could either have been one of these creatures that was misidentified as a strange and god-like being, or could be a new species of one of these.

Manta ray
No.

3. A giant new species of manta ray.

I find manta rays horrifying enough that this, for me, would be worse than a 90-foot humanoid whale thing.

4. An aquatic sloth.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

5. Some kind of killer whale-type dealio that looks kinda human because of convergent evolution.

Unclear what exactly we’d be convergently evolving to handle, but hey.

6. A U.S.O.

Remember Lake Baikal? The counterpoint to U.F.O.s are U.S.O.s–unidentified submersible objects. This author offers that the Ningen might be some kind of alien ship. Go big or go home, right? And since we’re on the subject…

7. Aliens.

I mean…a lot of sea creatures do look like aliens. Proponents of this theory point out that it’s really weird that nobody noticed the ginormous Ningen swimming around until the 90’s. Rather than presume that’s because someone made them up, what if it was actually because the Ningen weren’t around until then? This would go a ways toward explaining why the government might be so eager to cover them up.

Anyway. With our ongoing climate-change-and-ocean-acidification nonsense, I think it’s safe to say that we’re probably pissing the Ningen off. Maybe they’ll use their strangely human hands to rip a ship in half, or at least to give Google Earth a rude gesture. I, for one, can’t wait.

What is your favorite fish-related pun? Let minnow.

Photo cred: Pixabay for the Arctic ripples, Michael Van WoertRodin for the two-legged Ningen, and asands for the manta ray.

Ain’t got no privacy: The Dark Watchers

The Santa Lucia Mountains.
The Santa Lucia Mountains.

The Santa Lucia mountain range sprawls for 105 miles down the coast of central California, a great, towering expanse of tree and rock that proved impassable for early Spanish explorers. Ocean spray mists the west side of the range, making it fertile ground for conifers and redwoods. The mountains’ height blocks the moisture from travelling further, making its eastern side dry and brown. The Santa Lucia’s beauty and grandeur draw hikers and sightseers, though the terrain permits few roads. It is one of the wildest places left in the U.S.

Naturally, that also makes it home to dark and mysterious figures who like to watch people from cliffs.

The Dark Watcher encounter template

The typical Dark Watcher story goes something like this: A hiker or runner finds themselves alone in the mountains, either by choice or because they have become separated from their group. They feel suddenly uneasy. A tall figure looms on the horizon–a humanoid shape composed of complete darkness. The shape either gazes off toward the ocean or, more uncomfortably, stares at the witness. Sometimes it has a broad-brimmed hat and a staff, sometimes a hunch. Sometimes its friends will darken the spaces between the trees.

If the witness tries to double-check that the figure is actually there, or attempts to draw closer, it will vanish. But that doesn’t mean its presence can’t be corroborated. There are accounts of multiple people in a group seeing the figure at once, or the figure showing up in the same place at the same time the following year. The Dark Watchers never speak or attack. They just watch. But it is enough to leave an impression.

The internet has it that the Dark Watchers were part of the lore of the original tenants of coastal California–the Chumash (though this has been disputed). The Spanish conquistadors allegedly also ran into them, naming them Los Vigilantes Oscuros. But the Dark Watchers aren’t just half-forgotten monsters of legend: There have been sightings as recently as 2018. A witness from Ojai recounts:

“I was hiking up a remote trail up the 33 in Ojai, I was about an hour up the mountain, no people, no cars in sight. as I was hiking, I had this eerie feeling I was being watched. I looked up at the top of the mountain. It was a black figure. I waved, jokingly, not really thinking the object was a person. It waved back. Thinking I was maybe tripping, or that it was a tree waving in the wind, I took a puff of my cigarette, only to see the figure blow out a plume of smoke as well. I started seeing it flowing, and I say flowing, almost floating vertically. I ran like hell back to my car, spraining my knee in the process. “

Literary cameos

No account of the Dark Watchers would be complete without mentioning that they’ve appeared in the work of none other than John Steinbeck. From his short story “Flight”:

“Pepe looked up to the top of the next dry withered ridge. He saw a dark form against the sky, a man’s figure standing on top of a rock, and he glanced away quickly not to appear curious. When a moment later he looked up again, the figure was gone. Pepé looked suspiciously back every minute or so, and his eyes sought the tops of the ridges ahead. Once, on a white barren spur, he saw a black figure for a moment; but he looked quickly away, for it was one of the dark watchers. No one knew who the watchers were, nor where they lived, but it was better to ignore them and never to show interest in them. They did not bother one who stayed on the trail and minded his own business.”

Shadow man
What a Dark Watcher might look like with a shaggy haircut and shorts.

Steinbeck’s son (more on him in a moment) would later claim that the Dark Watchers were a fairly common part of his family’s life, even going so far as to say that his grandmother traded things with them. Certainly they seem to have been popular around the 1930’s (when “Flight” was written), because around that same time they were mentioned in a poem called “Such Counsels You Gave Me” by Robinson Jeffers, another Big Sur resident:

But when he approached
The fall of the hill toward Howren’s he saw apparently
A person on the verge, outlined against the darkening
Commissure of the farther hills, intently gazing
Into the valley. The young man’s tired and dulled mind,
Bred in these hills, taught in the city, reverted easily
Toward his dead childhood; he thought it might be one of the watchers,
Who are often seen in this length of coast-range, forms that look human
To human eyes, but certainly are not human.
They come from behind ridges and watch. But when he approached it
He recognized the shabby clothes and pale hair
And even the averted forehead and the concave line
From the eye to the jaw, so that he was not surprised
When the figure turning toward him in the quiet twilight
Showed his own face. Then it melted and merged
Into the shadows beyond it…

These accounts seemed to give the Dark Watchers a boost in popularity, leading people to not only not avoid being out in the mountains alone (as would probably be advisable), but to actively seek the Watchers out.

Modern hunt for the figures in black

I mentioned Steinbeck’s son–Thomas. The Dark Watchers fascinated him so that he and painter Benjamin Brode wrote a book on the subject: In Search of the Dark Watchers. Brode would go into the woods to try to capture the Watchers visually, and Steinbeck would write of his adventures. Both men seem to think of the Watchers not as 7 to 15 feet tall (as in other accounts), but as small, fairy-like creatures. There is a video of Steinbeck and Brode talking about the process of making the book; Brode discusses how he had to switch from bringing his paint-set to carrying only a sketchpad for fear that the abundance of equipment was scaring the Dark Watchers off. Steinbeck mentions that you can’t look at them directly or they will disappear–you can only view them out of the corner of your eye.

Apparently their pains paid off. Brode reported that not only did he see the Dark Watchers, but that there were so many coming out of the shadows that he was nearly tripping on them. Steinbeck called Brode’s paintings “possibly the only evidence out there of the existence of the Dark Watchers.” (You can preview some of the paintings on their website; they are very beautiful but I don’t see any definitive Dark Watchers in them. Perhaps I am not looking hard enough.)

Raincoat dog
No.

Others have found the Watchers more difficult to find. This might be due to the fact that they apparently have an aversion to modern trappings, especially (and oddly specifically) weatherproofed gear. The fog that often covers the west side of the mountains might be tempting monster-seekers into clothing choices that hamper their search. ‘Ware the water-resistant windbreaker. Plastic ponchos are right out.

Cousins of the man in Ben MacDui?

So what’s the deal with the Dark Watchers, really? Skeptics propose a number of potential explanations.

  1. The people who truly see these figures (and aren’t just making up stories for others’ entertainment) could be tired, duped by the tricks of the light in the varied landscape (i.e. the “Dark Watchers” are just a bunch of rocks).
  2. The mountains could be emitting infrasound. If something is creating a signal out of the range of human hearing, a would-be Dark Watcher witness might unconsciously pick it up and get freaked out by it, causing them to imagine that there’s something watching them (this is an explanation offered for ghost sightings in general, by the way).
  3. The Dark Watchers could be Brocken spectres–the same explanation offered for the Am Fear Liath Mor of Ben MacDui. If that were the case, the witnesses could be seeing their own shadows playing on the fog and mistaking them for otherworldly figures. (No word on the sightings that take place during clear days.)

But I’d like to hope that in one of the last wild(ish) places in the U.S., there might be something left that we haven’t thoroughly explained away. What might the Dark Watchers be? Nature spirits? Ghosts? Something worse? It’s enough to make you want to go out there and find out.

Just leave your raincoat in the car.

Have you ever been confronted by a shadowy figure that turns out to have your own face? Share your story in the comments below.

IMAGE CREDIT: Thank you to Pacific Southwest Region USFWS for the terrain photo; Pixabay’s O12 for the shorts man, and Pixabay’s Jim_Combs for the puppy.



What a hoot: La Lechuza

When doing research for this blog, if I want to feature any kind of female monster I have to sift through a lot of moaning-ghost-who-lost-her-lover type of B.S. It’s almost as bad as your stereotypical “whoops we built [insert building] on an Indian burial ground.” Any legend that colors outside of those boxes is welcome.

La Lechuza colors outside of the box. She is probably one of the more recognizable monsters on this blog, at least to living along the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Spanish speakers will recognize that her name translates to “the owl;” a simple name that hints at her elegant horror.

Sobs in the dark

A long time ago, after some townsfolk discovered that their neighbor was doing black magic, they killed her. As one would expect, she returned to take revenge on every generation thereafter. But there was a twist: she came back partially owl.

Or maybe it was that La Lechuza was once just a normal woman, who in exchange for magical powers made a terrible deal with the devil.

Seriously.

Or maybe she is many women, vengeful ghosts whose husbands were faithless or remarried after their deaths (*sigh*…those tired tropes again).

Though they might not be certain where she comes from, those that know la Lechuza know that if they hear strange sounds outside their door, they had better lock it tight and plug their ears. The classic Lechuza move is to wait outside someone’s house in the dark and then, with increasing urgency, to make sounds that replicate the cries of a human baby. If the heartless (or smart) human does not take the bait, she might try human whistles or trills. She will keep it up until the victim’s curiosity (or annoyance) get the better of them and they come outside.

What they find could drive them mad. As I mentioned before, la Lechuza is a hideous cross between woman and owl. She is big enough to carry a grown man off with her talons, and has a human enough face so you can read her expression as she watches you with her big, flat eyes. Some tales give her a beak; in others she has a mouth so that she can speak to you in her deep voice and ask you, for example, to hand over your newborn. Presumably she is also able to spin her head around (I found no accounts of that, but sincerely hope that it is the case).

So once you leave the safety of your house, you’re basically dead. Most Lechuza victims are carried off as food, fated to end up in a giant owl pellet ready to be dissected in hell’s elementary school.

Death and dented cars

Even if you don’t end up eaten (or have your offspring eaten) by la Lechuza, her presence means nothing good. She has long been considered an omen of death, and often leaves thunderstorms and other misfortunes in her wake.

Owlrighty then.

When not attacking people in their homes, she targets cars, especially along dark, deserted stretches of highway. Among her powers are the ability to neuter technology, so victims will suddenly find their battery dead as a giant owl runs them off the road.

An example: There was once a couple that thought la Lechuza was bunk. As they drove down a dry, empty road late one night, their windshield wipers abruptly squealed across the glass. The couple joked that it must be La Lechuza. Half a second later, something black loomed up ahead; they cursed and slammed on the brakes. It was a giant owl, perched on top of a phone pole, watching them. Hearts in their throats, the couple sped away, new Lechuza believers and lucky to be alive.

As if all of these offenses weren’t enough, La Lechuza is also known to carry out petty attacks. This includes pecking at people’s faces and tearing up their flesh (and clothes, I guess, but the flesh seems more important).

Basically, screw that meanie owl. Which brings me to my next point…

#^@&ing bird!

There are a a few ways that you can fight back against La Lechuza, but my favorite is to gustily cuss her out (though there are accounts of her killing you if you try). Apparently if you scream at her loudly and colorfully enough, she will leave you alone.

Finding royalty-free images for this post was a bit of a challenge.

A second exciting way of defending yourself is to blast la Lechuza with a shotgun. This, too, has varying results…presumably you have to get the shot right the first time, because you won’t get a second chance. Stories of success include an old woman disappearing for several weeks after a Lechuza was shot; when she finally emerged, it was with a limp. A more gruesome tale recalls a man shooting the Lechuza out of the sky and then finding a woman’s corpse bent over a high tree branch the following morning. (It is easier, I suppose, to think that the woman might be the dead Lechuza, rather than the victim of some heinous, more mortal crime.)

Prayer, trying seven knots in a rope, or asking for help from a curandera are also defense options, as is good old-fashioned salt. Personally, I think that a mixture of two or more probably wouldn’t hurt.

Of course, some say that La Lechuza isn’t there to hurt you, but to warn you of something. But what fun is that?

Would calling la Lechuza a “flipping poopoo-head” be sufficient to save one’s life? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

IMAGE CREDIT: Thank you Diego Delso of Wikimedia for the snowy owl; barloventomagico of Flickr for the creepy darkness owl, and Kellepics of Pixabay for the flexible lady.

Come here, you: Huggin’ Molly

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers (and to anyone else who enjoys eating a lot and being appreciative generally)! For many of us, Thanksgiving is a time when we visit family and reminisce about decades past. Sometimes we even become something of the selves that we were in those years: Siblings rib on each other; younger generations roll their eyes at old-timer’s antics; and parents lecture their children about the dangers of the world, especially after dark.

As the nights get longer and colder, there’s a lot of dark to go around. This full moon, we’re going to visit a monster that is just as concerned with keeping you safe as the most paranoid of parents.

Welcome to Abbeville, land of free hugs

creepy street night
I.e. if the street looks something like this, hurry home.

Abbeville is a town in southeastern Alabama that’s been around for almost 200 years. For at least half of those, parents there have been warning their children that after sunset–especially on those nights that are the blackest and most quiet–it is not advisable to be caught out of home. The familiar warning carries a special weight in Abbeville: There, anyone wandering the streets after dark is liable to get a visit from Huggin’ Molly.

The stories about Huggin’ Molly comprise a fairly transparent effort to get children to behave. Still, I’ll be damned if they aren’t effective. Molly is said to tower in the shadows, almost seven feet tall, wide as a door, and dressed completely in black (either a shroud, a cloak, or a dress and wide-brimmed hat, depending on who you ask). She moves quickly, often too quickly for anyone to escape. And if she catches you–when she catches you–you learn how Huggin’ Molly got her name: She wraps her arms tight around you, presses herself close, opens her mouth wide next to your ear, and screams.

Herding children since the late 1800’s

When discussing Huggin’ Molly, many cite the story of Mack Gregory, an Abeville native who had a run-in with the monster when he was a teenager in the 1920’s. Mack worked for a grocery store at the time, and had just finished his final delivery as it was getting dark.  He was walking home when he sensed someone behind him. He turned and made out a figure following in the shadows: very tall, very wide, all dressed in black.

Mack walked faster, and the figure increased their pace to match. He slowed, and the figure, coy, slowed too. Knowing that he was unlikely to be able to outrun Molly entirely, Mack hurried at a jog until getting in sight of his front door, and then sprinted with all his might to get inside, slamming the door behind him.

When he looked back out again, Molly was gone. Her message, however, stuck around: From that point on, Mack refused to do another night delivery.

Free hugs sign
Well, I’m sold.

A similar story comes from the mother of another teenager who was out late. A sixth sense told her that he might be in danger, and she was compelled to run out to the porch. There, in the dim light of the night, she saw him hurrying up the way, a dark figure coming up fast on his heels. She screamed at her son to run, and held the door open until he could rush into the safety of the house.

In both cases, although the child got away, Molly still achieved her goal: She got their butts inside. Her legend was powerful enough to motivate not only the kids who actually saw her, but any who heard their stories.

Will the real Huggin’ Molly please stand up?

I love the Huggin’ Molly not only because she is odd and profoundly creepy, but also because at least at one time, she appears to have been based in reality.

Some say that Molly was never a ghost (contradicting what I had initially assumed), but a human with a supernatural talent for making people poop their pants. The original Molly might have been a mother distraught from the death of her only child, seeking comfort by forcing her love on other children. Another theory is that (especially given her size) she might actually have been a “he”–some grown man with an unusual interest in public safety, a cruel sense of humor, or both.

black-lady-creepy-ghost-980263
Stylin’.

There are at least three situations in which Molly was definitely a human. The first involves a disgruntled professor from the Southern Alabama Agricultural College, which used to be local to Abbeville. Students from out of town liked to go out and visit friends at night, roaming the streets and generally causing a ruckus. The professor hated that. He donned the Molly disguise to scare them back to their beds. It is quite possible that he was the original Molly, and the legend simply outgrew him.

Then there were the copycats. In Baton Rouge, a man capitalized on his Molly costume to chase after pretty young women and girls. In Headland (a couple of towns over from Abbeville), a Huggin’ Molly impersonator caused such a stir that the editor of the local newspaper had to post a strongly worded warning:

“Some unprincipled person is parading the streets of Headland at all hours of the night dressed as a ‘Woman in Black.’ It is frightening the women and children and causing our large number of dogs to be kicking up a racket at most any time of the night. I have been requested to notify the person or ‘Thing’ that it will be shot on sight by a certain husband and father whose wife and children were frightened out of their wits the other night. Somebody is likely to get ‘hurted’ if they don’t learn to behave themselves.”

No word on whether the announcement had any sort of effect.

Huggin’ Molly today

There are many who still remember the tales of Huggin’ Molly that they heard as kids–some who even might tell the same stories to their kids now.  Either way, her legend is still going strong.

The last time that Molly was seen (that I have found recorded) was in 2010 during the annual Yatta Abba Day, a celebration of the Abbeville’s heritage. A local teacher was leading a tour through the cemetery when a dark figure appeared between the headstones and stormed away, scaring the living daylights out of everyone present. It is unclear if this was just a publicity stunt; if it wasn’t, at least no one got hugged.

Molly’s legend doesn’t just survive through stories and sightings. One Abbeville resident has capitalized on her popularity to build a 50’s diner-style restaurant called “Huggin’ Molly’s.” Themed menu items feature “Molly’s Fingers” and “Come back sauce.” As one Youtube video says, it is “sure to give you goosebumps and leave your stomach screaming for more!”

If I am ever in that area, I am going out of my way to visit.

Do you enjoy hugs? What is the worst hug you have ever experienced? Share your horror stories in the comments below.

Image credits: Thank you to yoyoj3d1 on Flickr for the free hugs photo, Phillip Mullen on Pexel for the creepy street shot, and Archie Binamira (also on Pexel) for the ghost lady!

How ribbeting: tales of the Loveland Frogmen

This full moon we’re going to Loveland, Ohio, a residential town cut in two by the Little Miami River. Loveland gets muggy in the summer and cold in the winter, and is home to lots of bridges, trails, and (according to some) foggy nights full of waist-high Frogmen.

frog eye
Like this, only much, much larger. (This might actually be a toad. The Frogman legend does not seem to be aware of any difference between the two, so we’re going to roll with it.)

An amphibious faceoff

Our first encounter comes to us in May of 1955. A businessman was driving down a poorly lit Loveland backroad around 3:30 am, so exhausted that he was struggling to keep his eyes open. Then he noticed three shapes standing standing off to the side (or on a bridge or under a bridge, depending on the story). Frowning, he leaned forward to get a closer look, and then woke up real fast. The figures were leathery, frog-faced bipeds between 3 and 4 feet tall, chatting and gesticulating at each other with webbed fingers.

The man slowed his car to a stop for some (rather justifiable) rubbernecking, and one of the Frogmen looked up. It lifted a wand up into to black sky, and shot a spray of sparks. As might anyone upon encountering a frog sorcerer at 3 am, the man hightailed it out of there, and the legend of the Loveland Frogmen was born.

Looking through the Frogmen literature (such as it is), one has to wonder if that faceoff didn’t start something. Most sources agree that the Frogmen are not generally aggressive, yet that first warning shot would be followed by an ominous watery encounter just a few months later, in late August.

There’s something in the water

Mrs. Naomi Johnson was swimming in the Ohio River (which Loveland’s Little Miami River branches off of) with her child and some friends. She had gotten about 15 feet from the shore when a clawed, furry hand wrapped around her knee. Mrs. Johnson screamed, struggled, and tried in vain to get away as the thing pulled, intent on dragging her under. At last she broke free and splashed toward land, only to have the hand grab her a second time. Mrs. Johnson seized an inner tube in desperation, and the slap of the plastic finally scared the monster away. She scrambled ashore, sobbing, and found her leg covered in bruises, scratches, and a giant green handprint that would refuse to fade for weeks.

Frogmen have been known to throw rocks at people who get too close, and it’s not hard to imagine that there would be a price to pay if someone stumbled into their watery home. Mrs. Johnson’s incident was pretty far from the initial sighting, and no one saw the actual assailant, but the connection isn’t impossible. Anyway, the next sighting, almost two decades later, would be pure, uncut anura.

Frog in the headlights

It was another late night, this time around 1 am, on March 3, 1972. Police officer Ray Shockey was driving carefully due to the icy conditions. It was a good thing he was–he and had just enough time to slam on the brakes when something scurried across the road ahead.

loveland frogman illustration
A helpful diagram, courtesy of Tim Bertelink over on Wikimedia Commons.

Like the previous Frogmen, the thing was between 3 and 4 feet tall, about 50 to 75 pounds, and with leathery skin reminiscent of a frog. Fully illuminated by his headlights, the creature rose from its crouch to stand on two feet next to the guardrail on the side of the road. It regarded Shockey frankly, eyes glinting in the light, and then hopped over the rail and disappeared down into the river.

Of course the other officers made fun of Shockey when he shared this story. But then his friend Matthews went down the same road a couple of weeks later, and the same thing happened to him. Matthews saw something on the shoulder and, thinking it might be an injured creature, got out to investigate. Then the Frogman stood up, looked at him, and smirked. It matched Shockey’s description exactly.

Matthews drew his weapon and shot it dead.

There is some debate about what happened next. Matthews claimed in later years that upon further examination of the thing (he put it in his trunk to show the others and vindicate Shockey), he discovered it was not a Frogman at all, but an enormous, tailless iguana. He hypothesized that said iguana might have been someone’s pet but either got loose or got too big and so was abandoned. “[The frogman is] a big hoax,” he told one reporter. “There’s a logical explanation for everything.”

Sidebar: boring logic

Frog
You say logic, you get this look.

There are logical explanations for the 1972 sightings, as well as the ones in 1955. The year before that businessman had his fateful run-in with the Wizard Frogs was the year everyone saw The Creature of the Black Lagoon. It could have been that both he and Mrs. Johnson were influenced by this (as well as other cultural phenomena such as UFOs), and simply connected dots when there were none. Maybe something that looks like a giant tailless iguana is actually just a giant tailless iguana.

But it’s more fun to consider the other side of the coin. Proponents of the Frogmen emphasize that it was until later that Matthews came out with this iguana story–he said nothing about it at the time. Mrs. Johnson might also have gotten a visit from the government requesting her not to talk anymore about her little incident at the lake. And though Matthews said that the creature was almost dead when he shot it, the sightings haven’t stopped.

Frogbomination, I choose you!

The latest headline-creating Frogman sighting comes to us courtesy of Pokemon Go, the augmented reality game that encouraged everyone to actually get out of their house for a few months. One night in August 2016, a teenager named Sam Jacobs and his girlfriend wandered over the train tracks to the dark shores of Lake Isabella. It was then that, as a local Cincinatti station (somewhat dramatically) put it, “a night of fun turned into a chilling tale of horror.”

They were looking for Pokemon, but found so much more. A giant frog sat by the water and, as they watched, got up and walked on its hind legs. Jacobs even taped some video of it (or, at least, some very bright eye reflections of it).

Jacobs recognizes that people might not believe him, but insists that the video is real. “I swear on my grandmother’s grave that this is the truth,” he said.  “I’m not sure whether it was a Frogman or just a giant frog. Either way, I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Neither have I, Jacobs. Neither have I.

Really, though, these guys shouldn’t always be hanging out in the middle of the road. What would be the repercussions of hitting a Frogman with your car? Share your thoughts in the comments below.